I have long been a fan of Caroline Glick, the Chicago-born Israeli author of The Israeli Solution, and the sharpest commentator I know on Israeli politics and international relations. Not surprisingly, CG has remained a strong supporter of Netanyahu and is highly critical of the current coalition regime.
The other day on her quasi-weekly webcast, where she is usually accompanied by her Tel Aviv colleague Gadi Taub, she had as her guest David Wurmser, a cofounder of MEMRI and a longtime Middle East consultant under Republican administrations. Unlike most policy experts, Wurmser was willing and able to grant “the Jewish question” its full historical significance.
Judaism as the source of Christianity and Western civilization is rooted in the land of Israel. Yet this territory’s partial reoccupation by the Jews is not merely resented as a “colonial” import by many local Arab-Palestinian populations—and indirectly by the many nations and NGOs who support them—but condemned as the entirely unjustified usurpation of a territory that their ancestors never occupied. Not only is the current leader of the PLO/PA the author of a dissertation denying the fact of the Holocaust, but the entire Palestinian enterprise is founded on the barefaced denial that those who today call themselves Jews have any connection whatever to this land. As Wurmser was not afraid to point out, virtually the whole of Europe, the homeland of Western Civilization, generously funds the Palestinian “resistance” against the Jewish state.
These nonsensical claims serve the same function today as the story of Jews murdering Christian children to use their blood in matzoth back in 13th-century England. Although one cannot deny the usefulness of the updated definition of antisemitism put out in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, antisemitism can be defined most simply as the unconditional hatred of Jews. If this year it be called “anti-Zionism,” that is as unimportant as the term antisemitism itself, which reflects an obsolete racial doctrine that has never been applied to other Semites. Israel is the only one of the world’s nations whose very existence is denounced as a crime.
Given the fact that, unlike most Jews from Russia and the rest of Europe, let alone the Middle East, those of my generation have benefited from lives virtually untouched by antisemitism, I feel a special responsibility to make clear to the world the crucial centrality of the Jews/Hebrews to Western and world culture.
As an attempt by humans to “think ourselves,” generative anthropology cannot avoid the fact that the modern world is a Western creation—whether or not Asians can learn to operate it better than Westerners remains to be seen—nor that the “West” is built on a Jewish foundation. In a word, Western civilization is Jewish monotheism de-tribalized by Christianity. Nor can the latter deny the firstness of its Hebrew element, despite its rejection of the human component of the Trinitarian God.
Unlike the theological reflections of Xenophanes, which encourage us to detach the sacred from the particularities of its human history, the universality of the Hebrew conception of the divinity does not expel its historical concreteness. The Hebrew One God remains a “tribal” divinity, not in an exclusive sense, but in an originary one. The One God originated not as an abstraction, but as the embodiment of the sacred for a particular community.
It is the Jews’ firstness with respect to this foundational principle of Western civilization that explains antisemitism. It also explains how easy it is for Jews, and not only in the US, to take the side of their haters against themselves: how does one dare claim membership in the “chosen people”?
The White Guilt we hear so much of lately is a pan-Western derivative of Jewish Guilt, a term that, ironically, has come to designate a psychological handicap characteristic of Jews in societies that “tolerate” them too much for their own sense of well-being. In particular, this guilt explains the strange reluctance of the Jews to seek and claim victory—a characteristic that increasingly clings to the West as a whole. It is as if WWII itself were less a great triumph than the ultimate debunking of the very notion of victory.
Why, if we really know that Jerusalem is a Jewish city, did Moshe Dayan let the Muslim Wakf retain control of the Temple Mount after the victory in 1967? To paraphrase Chronicle 705, can we imagine Muslims putting Jews in charge of the Kaaba? Given that Israel was willing to leave the El Aqsa mosque untouched (one can imagine what would have happened in the contrary case), it certainly wasn’t required to forbid Jews to pray anywhere in the area.
And why are the Left Bank territories still called “occupied”? Russia illegally annexed Crimea; do we call it “occupied”? Do we seek to open a separate consulate in Sebastopol for Ukrainians? It is only the Jews who not only get treated this way, but who treat themselves this way. One might even speculate that the reason that Israel remained generally popular until 1967 was not simply that it was perceived as the underdog, but that as such, it sought victory. If you want people to treat you like a winner, you mustn’t be afraid to win.
Adam Katz’s and my The First Shall Be the Last, which defended these ideas, was about as much a non-event as a book can be. That it was virtually disowned by the organization (ISGAP) that sponsored it says enough about its impact within the “anti-antisemitism” community. And we should not overlook the fact that this reaction is substantially the same as that met by the first book concerned with generative anthropology, The Origin of Language (TOOL) published by UC Press in 1981—and regretted by them ever since. As the UCLA representative of the Press told me some years later when I proposed another manuscript, “we have to eat.” Can the common fate of these two books have some significance other than the poor judgment of some editors in bringing untimely or unworthy volumes to print?
Rather than a kind of mental disease, or an example of “scapegoating” in which the identity of the victim is simply arbitrary (why this goat?), Jew-hatred is a phenomenon of world-historical significance. That anti-antisemites are loath to explain this for fear that the reasons behind antisemitism might appear, or function, as a justification, is hardly a valid argument. As we should not be surprised to observe, antisemitism didn’t go away in 1945, and today it may well again be as pervasive as, say, in 1930… or 1330. People don’t need new reasons to hate the Jews. The point is to understand the anthropological roots of this hatred rather than reacting punctually to its accusations, or attempting to weigh the difference between being antisemitic and opposing Israel’s policies. And yet there is a quasi-pathological reluctance to do so.
The parallel with the origin of language should be obvious. Linguists shrug their shoulders: who really needs such a theory? linguistics is about the languages we have, regardless of how they emerged from our prelinguistic state. Anthropologists don’t need such theories either: they need data, not speculative hypotheses. As for the religious community, it is wary of anthropological explanations of the sacred; faith must be kept alive, not distracted with imagined godless scenarios.
But what if they are all wrong?
The sacred cannot be understood as a speculative construction, as though—Max Müller thought in these terms—”newly created” man awoke from his anti-Darwinian slumber (see Chronicle 192) and wondered what indeed was the source of the “being” that he saw all around him. Müller imagined that he found it in the sun…
Girard (and Freud before him), however fanciful their scenarios, conceived the origin of humanity as dependent on the resolution/deferral of a conflict. In Freud’s case, the “father’s” monopoly of women led to his murder, a scenario which, relieved of its erotic element, is not far from a variant of the originary hypothesis. The Freudian “father” is a quasi-mythical equivalent of the Alpha in animal hierarchy, and although the latter does not command the group nor keep all the females for himself, his monopoly of firstness suffices to make him the object of general resentment.
The core of Girard’s hypothesis, truly game-changing whatever its secondary deficiencies, is that the minimal content of the sacred is its preservation of the human community against the violent potential of internal mimetic rivalry. That is, Girard anticipated GA’s “definition” of the human as the only species that is its own worst enemy. All varieties of the sacred can be understood as variations on this theme. Although the sacred addresses each member of the community individually, as Durkheim understood, the latter’s solidarity must be regularly reinforced by the repetition of the originary exercise of reciprocal exchange and sacrificial feasting.
What specifically did the Hebrews contribute to our understanding of the sacred? In a world in which the several communities each have their own images/intuitions of divinity, understood in the wider world as distinct individual gods, the Hebrews understood that God is One.
This can be seen as originating in the attempt of a weak people to bypass the competition among the gods whose power reflected that of powerful empires by asserting that victory and defeat in intersocietal competition are irrelevant to God’s governance. But whatever the source of the original intuition, the epistemological consequence is that by invalidating the relevance of divine “competition,” the idea of the One God puts all nations on the same moral level. God is the protector of humanity as a whole, and his choice of the Hebrews as “his” people can be justified only a posteriori by their moral exemplarity—which, as the biblical story shows, they rarely claimed to have maintained even under the best of reigns. Recalling that reciprocal symmetry is the basis of human relations in general attaches the One God to the originarily human in a way impossible for any “local” god.
No doubt, as in all history, fortuitous factors played a role in this revelation, notably the relatively acephalous governance of the Hebrew tribes, coupled with their widely shared alphabetic literacy, and perhaps also their failure, once settled in Canaan, to establish a durable military-economic power. Nor do we fully understand the relationship between the Hebrew experience and the “Catastrophe” of the 12th century BC, as reflected in the Trojan War and the destruction of the Hittite and Minoan empires. And who knows how the Hebrew One God would have fared over the past two millennia in the absence of the Christian and Islamic “heresies” that spread its lesson throughout much of the world?
But the simple fact that the Jews are hated today as they were two thousand years ago, that their very historical reality is denied, suffices as a demonstration of their firstness. Originary resentment is focused on the sacred itself; it is the sacred’s transcendence of this resentment through its gift of peace in the sacrificial feast that makes it nonetheless indispensable. The “chosen people” of the One God who in fact embodies the sacred for all were fated to take this resentment on themselves.
We should recall that, even allowing for the diplomatic disculpation of the Romans in the way the Gospels tell the tale, Jesus was crucified by them, not his fellow Jews. Guilt for the Crucifixion, in other words, belongs to the pagan world. But no doubt it was only by transferring this guilt to the Jewish people that Christianity could induce the rest of the world to benefit from the Hebrew “discovery” of the One God.
John Paul II’s acceptance of the Jews as Christianity’s “elder brothers” dissolves this ancient rivalry, although it remains unclear to what extent his papal successor, along with what remains of the Christian West, have absorbed this lesson. Those who piously respect the sanctity of pre-Columbian burial grounds find no contradiction in generously financing those who deny the Jews’ historical connection to their ancient homeland.
The sequel to this Chronicle will attempt to draw some further conclusions concerning the West’s contemporary dilemma.